The folks at Phi Beta Cons are waxing anti-intellectual about Mary Collins' complaint in The Christian Science Monitor. According to Collins, her daughter has stopped reading because her school requires her to read novels with "distressing plots [and] sad, even sinister, story lines." Most interesting to Carol Iannone, however, is Collins' account of a conversation she had with some of her daughter's classmates:
The string of searing plot patterns has resulted in some very peculiar unintended consequences. Most of the students I spoke with from my daughter's middle school claimed that the readings made them feel inadequate because they never "experienced these horrible things."
"It becomes awkward," one student said, "because you're constantly made to feel spoiled or privileged."
Her co-blogger, David French, picks up the baton and—in a move calculated to prove, definitively, his nub-mindedness—promptly thwacks the first professor he sees:
I enjoyed Carol’s post highlighting how the typical college reading assignment seems designed to make students feel “spoiled or privileged.” In fact, professorial contempt for “spoiled or privileged” students is nauseatingly common. Yet this is yet another example of academic blindness. It is tough to imagine a more “privileged” person than a tenured faculty member at a major university. Six figure income. Ten month work year. Absolute job security in the absence of actual fraud or criminal behavior. No other profession in America enjoys such benefits.
That Collins and Iannone spoke of middle school reading lists is irrelevant. The point is to drub academics wherever and whenever you can; in this case, for their contempt for the "spoiled and privileged." You know that varnish spoiled, privileged children are taught to apply to their elitism in (ahem) finishing schools?
French forgot to apply it. He speaks here, openly, for the downtrodden, i.e. the spoiled, privileged children of wealth. He is nauseated by the contempt in which these spoiled, privileged children are held. That they behave in spoiled, privileged ways is irrelevant. That is their culture, see, and these postmodern multiculturalists are hypocrites for shitting on these children's unearned pretensions.
They come from a better culture—one with money and power—and these arrogant professors have the nerve to inform them that the world shouldn't bow to their every wish and whim? Who do these professors think they are? Did they go Andover? Groton, even? Who are they to spit upon our spoiled children?
To return to my original point—which, to be honest, I've yet to even hint at—Collins suggests that these children can be cheered up by reading something chipper like Huck Finn. Because once Huck and Tom fool Jim into thinking he's still enslaved, then torture him for a little while in order to satisfy Tom's love of historical romance—well, those are an absolute hoot. Guaranteed to cheer up a sallow youth any day.
For that matter, why not have them read Connecticut Yankee? It's finale is clean, wholesome fun for children of all ages. I mean, The Boss insists that the electrocuted knights be delivered a coup de grace, when he could have left them on the field to die horribly and alone, save for the screams and rattles of their compatriots.
My point, then, is that the canon debate factors into these issues in ways we shouldn't, but do, ignore. If Twain wrote Huck Finn today, I guarantee Collins and her ilk would complain about it being taught to their children. (They do, of course, but for different reasons.)